You put in extra effort, always help your colleagues and produce excellent results for your company—but no one even notices. Being undervalued hurts.
Going out of your way without so much as a thank-you might make you wonder: What should you do if you’re feeling unappreciated at work?
If this is you, you’re not alone. TINYpulse's 2019 Employee Engagement Report found that 33% of employees feel undervalued at work, and only 26% feel "highly valued.”
And if the pandemic has amplified your feelings of frustration, that’s normal. In May 2020, OfficeTeam surveyed more than 1,000 U.S. workers and found that more than half of them have had their feelings about work change because of the pandemic. And of those, 60% are now “more motivated to be employed at an organization that values its staff during unpredictable times.”
But here’s some good news: You have the power to do something about it. Read on to find out how to stay motivated and make a change when you’re feeling unappreciated at work.
Perhaps this is best illustrated by the results of a University of Pennsylvania study. In one of the experiments, researchers Adam Grant and Francesca Gino recruited fundraisers who had to solicit donations for a university. They randomly split the participants into two groups. The only difference between the two groups is that one received a visit from the director who thanked them for their hard work, while the other group received no expression of gratitude from the director.
In the end, the group that received the expression of gratitude made more voluntary calls than the unappreciated group. It appears that the appreciated group was motivated to go above and beyond, even though they would not be monetarily rewarded for it.
It’s probably no surprise to you that someone who doesn’t feel valued by their employer isn’t eager to stick around for long. A 2017 OfficeTeam study found that 66% of workers would likely quit if they experienced a lack of appreciation.
According to the 2015 InLoox Work-Life Balance Survey, 80% of employees who feel their work is not valued say their job negatively affects their private life. But only half of employees who feel their work is valued say the same.
According to a 2012 American Psychological Association survey, “employees who feel valued are more likely to report better physical and mental health.”
Feeling like no one values your work can ruin your motivation. Here are some things you can do to give yourself a boost.
If you’re feeling unappreciated at work, begin by acknowledging your feelings and doing some digging. Why does this lack of appreciation hurt? What does appreciation look like to you? Is it a verbal “thank you”? A monetary reward? Public recognition?
Next, reflect on how your boss and your team are falling short of your expectations. What exactly do you wish they would do? Once you can put your finger on why you’re feeling unappreciated, the whole situation will feel a lot less confusing. Plus, you’ll be able to take some steps to remedy it.
Receiving praise and recognition from your boss or colleagues is an external source of motivation that is ultimately outside of your control. You can try to influence them as much as you can, but at the end of the day, you can’t force them to recognize your value. Instead, try focusing internally on the way you view yourself and the way you show appreciation for yourself.
Take some time to notice all the wonderful things you do for your company. Did you put away the dishes in the office kitchen even though no one asked you to? Did you save the day by fixing a bug that put your entire company website out of service? How many dollars’ worth of deals did you help your company close this quarter? How many downloads of your team’s new app can be attributed to your marketing efforts?
Write down these wins, and reward yourself. It can be something as small as going for a walk at your favorite park after work or treating yourself to an extra scoop of ice cream. Keep this list of accomplishments with you and glance at it anytime you’re feeling unappreciated. It can serve as a much-needed reminder of your value to your organization.
Modeling is one of the ways humans learn. We observe someone else’s behavior and then imitate it. So another way of saying “model appreciation” is “set a good example.” If you want to receive more acts of appreciation at work, be the first to give them.
There’s another psychology concept that can aid you in this endeavor: reciprocity. Reciprocity is the obligation we feel to give back when we receive something. Here’s a common example: When someone gives you a compliment, do you instantly feel compelled to give them one too (e.g., “I love your shoes!” “Thanks! I love your shirt!”)? That’s the principle of reciprocity at work.
So by giving praise and recognition to your colleagues, you may find that they will start imitating your behavior because they want to return the favor. Moreover, by doing this, you’ll begin to build a culture of appreciation in your workplace, especially if it’s one where recognition and praise are typically lacking.
Part of practicing gratitude is noticing the things that you didn’t pay attention to before. Challenge yourself to look for moments when someone at work expresses appreciation for you, and keep a running list of these moments.
And there’s science to back the practice of gratitude. In 2005, positive psychology researcher Martin Seligman and colleagues conducted a study testing five different happiness interventions. Three showed promising results for increasing happiness and decreasing depressive symptoms:
While the previous four tips can be useful, there’s unlikely to be a major change until you talk to your boss about your desire for praise and recognition. As you prepare to have this conversation, revisit your findings from the first tip so you can give specific examples along with concrete ideas for change.
Be sure to give your boss statistics on how a culture of appreciation can actually improve job performance and retention. The O.C. Tanner Global Culture Report can help you make your case, as it’s packed with plenty of research on appreciation in the workplace.
Admittedly, talking to your boss really only works in a psychologically safe workplace, where you know you won’t face retaliation for speaking your mind. If your office suffers from a toxic culture, it may be time to move on to the next section.
Leaving your job is a personal decision, and often an extremely difficult one. Only you can make that call. In the least, it might be worth trying the above five tips, especially talking to your boss, to see if you can make a positive change in your work environment before walking away from it completely.
If your job is meaningful, you enjoy your coworkers and you’re being paid well, but the only drawback is that you feel unappreciated—it might be worth sticking it out and working through this issue. But if you’ve tried everything and the lack of appreciation is taking its toll on your well-being, it may be time to move on to an organization that will recognize your value.
Feeling unappreciated at work will take a toll on your performance, morale and motivation. While we all hope to have supportive managers, sadly, that’s not the case for everyone. Thankfully, you now have five ways you can stay motivated at work, even if no one praises or recognizes your efforts.
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